J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Timothy Newell Worries About Nothing

On 23 July 1775, Boston selectman Timothy Newell wrote in his diary:

The Castle it is publicly talked will be dismantled. This evening many Guns fired at and from the man of war at N[orth or New, meaning West]. Boston. Ten or twelve transports it is said sailed this day with 150 soldiers upon a secret expedition for provisions.
That expedition was very secret indeed—I can’t find any other mention of it. Most likely the rumor Newell had heard was just as unfounded as the plan to dismantle Castle William in Boston harbor, which was, after all, the British military’s strongest protection.

Castle William was never dismantled during the Revolutionary War [ADDENDUM: but see comments]. Eventually that fortification on an island in Boston harbor was replaced by the current structure, completed in 1851. The area is now called Castle Island even though it’s no longer an island. Go figure.

For a sunny view of Castle Island taken from a plane leaving Logan Airport, see Gregory Garretson’s travel journal.

4 comments:

Benjamin Carp said...

Dismantled, no. Blown up, yes--just after the British evacuated Boston in 1776. The island was always Castle Island and the fortifications atop it were called Fort William--but the locals in a fit of quirkiness often used the term "Castle William."

J. L. Bell said...

I bow to your knowledge on all things blown up and set on fire in the Revolutionary War.

I think I was misled by the number of locals who went to work on Castle Island soon after the British left. On 24 June 1776, for instance, John Adams wrote to William Tudor, "Major Austin...has the Command of Castle William." And I recall Paul Revere prowling around the island checking the ordnance.

So I figured the Castle had survived with less damage than the Boston Light. But I guess those visits were salvage operations.

I now see that on 25 Mar 1776 Washington wrote to Joseph Reed, "They have blown up, burnt, and demolished the Castle totally."

DeWitt said...

After the British left, wasn't the fort run by Lt. Paul Revere and called Fort Independence?

J. L. Bell said...

There are indeed websites that say "Lt. Paul Revere" was put in charge of the Castle. However, his rank in spring 1776 was major and by the end of that year lieutenant-colonel.

Revere seems to have gotten the assignment to make the most of Castle Island from two or three sources: Gen. Washington, the town of Boston, and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. With those overlapping authorities, it wouldn't surprise me if there were overlapping assignments as well.

The "Fort Independence" name dates from the late 1790s, when John Adams's administration was building up the U.S. of A.'s naval and seaside defenses. It wouldn't have been used just after the British evacuation since independence wasn't official policy yet.

During the Revolution "Fort Independence" seems to have been the fortification on Mount Independence in Vermont.